Authorities warn of bird flu outbreak

Several cases of bird flu in the penguin colony at Boulders have been confirmed by state veterinary services.

SANParkspokeswoman, Merle Collins, said the virus posed a “very low risk” to humans, but is a real threat to domestic poultry”.

So far one tern and two penguins from Boulders have come back positive for H5N8. The colony will remain open for now to visitors but they are asked to stay on boardwalks and change their shoes and clothes if they plan to visit other seabird colonies or poultry farms, to stop the virus spreading.

Ms Collins said the park was monitoring the situation closely and had taken several precautions:

* With the exception of visitors on Boulders Beach boardwalk,nobodymay access the main breeding col-
ony.

* In instances where staff need to go off boardwalks to collect injured birds or hats, camera lens, or caps dropped by visitors, they will limit their access to essential work and then sterilise their boots afterwards – gumboots have been issued and are easier to clean than the normal boot.

* Monitoring routes used for moult/nest counts have been reviewed to ensure that staff and penguin monitors do not walk through the main breeding colony.

MsCollinssaidthe WesternCapeVeterinaryServices,CapeNature,
SANParks, the national Department of Environmental Affairs,
the City of Cape Town, the
Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal
Birds (SANCCOB) and other seabird rehabilitation centres and
private veterinarians were work-
ing together to monitor the
situation and do further te-
sting.

“The Western Cape is most affected. The virus is spread from bird to bird, by contaminated bird faeces and other body excretions, and by handling sick birds.

“Even though the virus is unlikely to infect humans, precautions should nevertheless be taken. Gloves, shoes, clothes, and other protective gear should be worn if handling birds,” said Ms Collins.

“Any equipment including vehicles and protective cloth-
ing that could possibly be contaminated should be steril-
ised.”

While “highly pathogenic to chickens and other poultry”,
the virus’s impact on wild seabirds was not well understood, she
said.